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Recording “Letters” with Butch Walker

Recording Butch Walker Letters

The best records you make as a Music Producer are always the easiest to make. Butch Walker’s “Letters” was one such record.

“Letters” started with me getting out of the house and visiting my friend Butch In Little 5 Points in Atlanta. I went to drink Wine and hang out with Butch. Then he played me the demo to the song “Mixtape” and we decided a good way to spend the weekend would be to drink wine and do this song.

Butch had a ton of awesome gear setup already in his tiny guesthouse. We cut the first version of Mixtape tracking the drums in the little 8 by 8 bedroom in his guest house. We later re-recorded the drums at Belmont studio in Nashville. I played keys, some background vocals and percussion while Butch was his awesome self being Butch. We weren’t thinking about record sales or a deal, we were just having fun……so of course Sony picked it up.

Jim Ebert & Butch Walker

By the time the deal was done and all was well with the world, Butch had built a small studio in Little 5 points (I believe) and we commenced to making the record. We tracked everything 1n 9 or 10 days and mixed it in about the same amount of time. No over-thinking, no drama, just making music. No vocal tuning, a bit of drum editing on loop based songs but not much on anything else. Vocals were usually one or two takes with a couple of punches. We were just aiming at the soul of the song and perfection would be a bonus.

The players involved were perfect for the project. For me, Kenny Cresswell playing drums was amazing on that record. Great feel and great sense of humor playing and personality wise. This record was recorded so fast, we we’re a little bummed and surprised when it was done. Thinking we had just made the next greatest record ever, we were a bit bummed when Sony said they had no Idea what to do with it.

I thought, (like I had thought so many times before with records I had been involved with, but much stronger with “Letters”) just market it you dumb-asses . That never happened.

There is a core audience that loves this record, and as a producer I have gotten more work production work out of this record than any other. If you don’t have “Letters” you should get it… Jim

 
 

Music Producer Jim Ebert – Recording “Letters” with Butch Walker

Recording Bass Guitar

“Jim- Whats the hardest thing to record?”

Recording Bass Guitar

For me its Recording Bass Guitar. The technique, the part, the bass, the amp (if needed) all play a huge part in making it sound like it’s part of the band. Usually there’s overplaying as the bassist is use to playing at rehearsals or live where they me be required to fill all the spaces. Typically I don’t want all the spaces filled in a Major recording. It’s simple things like don’t play over the snare some times or don’t clack on the pickups (more of a Metal thing).

When recording bass parts I typically use API mic pre’s along with an LA 3 compressor. These two items create a sonically intact front end bass signal. This enables the bass player and I to concentrate on getting the most grooving, underplayed non-clacking part possible.

An easy way to check your technique, provided you’re multi-tracking, is to get a copy of your bass part solo’ed so you can hear what your actually playing. You might be surprised at what doesn’t need to be there.

Of course there is the bass itself. It needs to sound right for what you’re doing. Clear and piano like or dead and muted depending on the genre. Other obvious things, make sure the strings are relatively new and the intonation is set correctly before you start recording…..hope this is helpful……… Jim

 
 

Recording Bass Guitar

Recording Methods – Recording A Song A Day

Recording a Song a day

As a Music Producer, one of the most frequently asked questions I get is “Hey Jim, How do you like to schedule your Recording sessions?”

Well, if everyone in the band and/or all the session players can be there, I like to go with Recording A Song A Day.

My reasoning behing recording one song per day is that we can setup and perform with only the one song in mind. The sounds we produce and perform will be solely for the one song. This keeps everyones creative visions and ideas focused on the one sone and only the one song, from start to finish.

I’ve certainly Done drums for the album first, then bass on day 2, guitars days, 3-4 , etc. This method is very common and works as well, especially if there are scheduling confilcts within the band or with session players. In my experience, this still takes about the same amount of time as a song a day.

One of the other upsides to a song a day is not having to sing and record vocals on 10 songs at the end of the project. This can be stressful for the best of vocalists.

If You can schedule recording a song a day, I strongly suggest this method. Give it a try. Jim

 
 

Recording A Song A Day

Music Submissions and Demo Recordings

“Hey Jim, when I send you my music demo recordings, how evolved does the recording need to be?”

music-submissionWell, when I receive Music Submissions, I personally prefer the acoustic guitar or piano version of the song. This way I can hear the vocals, melody, chord structure and song arrangement. Then we can talk about the direction of the production.

A cell phone recording is fine with me for this purpose. It’s fine when bands or artists make their own multi-track recording, but that usually takes weeks longer to put together.

The other issue with multi-track demo solicitation is, you may get married to the demo. This can be both good and bad. Good if you created something awesome and we can use it. Bad if you created something not awesome and you can’t hear the song any other way.

Another reason I prefer a basic version is, you brought it to me so we can take your idea to the next level. The next level sonically and artistically. We will best achieve this from the ground up. If I am producing your project from tracking to Mixing, I am going to use the best recording equipment available e.g. Microphones, pre-amps, outboard gear and recording software. This will insure your idea reaches maximum sonic level.

As a Music Producer, I prefer to start with the song idea at it’s most basic level. The melody, chord progression and lyrics need to stand on their own. Let’s get this nailed down in pre production and then build the song out from there. I might have some ideas that you haven’t considered and you might have some ideas that we need to explore.
My experience will guide us through this process in a productive and efficient manner.

Other times a more established band will have recorded tracks for a demo with the intent to turn it into a master. We will have discussed this in preproduction and we would re-cut any tracks that are not sonically relevant. Again, we would have established the musical direction before I accepted the project.

Hope this helps, Jim Ebert
 
 

Recording Matthew Ryan’s Certainly Never

Tales from the vault

may-dayIn the mid 90s, I had the pleasure of recording Matthew Ryan’s Debut album “Mayday” on A+M records. We recorded the record in NY, LA and Nashville using some of the finest recording gear available. We used 2 inch tape for the whole record, as most people did then. I used lots of equipment to get a very rugged natural sound but the biggest example of this was the song “Certainly Never”.

Matthew and I talked about the production on “Certainly Never” and he wanted a very room like, no frills sound for the song. At the time we were recording at Bearsville Recording Studio and I had access to the finest microphones and gear around.

The track consisted of Matthew playing piano and singing and Dave Ricketts playing Stratocaster (I believe) across the room about 20 feet away. Keeping with the spirit of the song, I took one AKG 414 and put it into the figure 8 pattern. I had Matthew and Dave play half the song, then I moved the mic a bit for vocal piano blend (still using the figure 8 pattern) and adjusted Dave’s amp volume a bit. I then had them play the song again. Was it perfect? No… Was it the right vibe?….. I believe it’s one of Matthews favorite on the Record. The lesson here is? Don’t over-think.

Recording with or without effects

“Jim, Should I record with effects like reverb or delay on the track?”

recording-with-effectsAs a Music Producer and audio Engineer, this is another question I get frequently. Typically, the answer is no, but it comes down to personal taste.

Personally I record a lot of my guitar effects thru the guitar amp as if the player is performing live. Why? Because I LIKE THE SOUND of guitar effects thru the amp while the guitarist is cutting the track. “But Jim, then you cant change it”. Correct, but I LIKE IT…..so I have made a production decision.

That being said, my preference is to record vocals dry with no effects and adjust them later according to the mix. I do however record vocals with some level of compression. The amount of compression I use is dictated largely by the genre of music the track is for. Pop music is very compressed so I’ll use some compression while tracking and maybe a bit more when I mix. When recording and producing a Jazz record, I will use much less compression while tracking as this genre dictates that.

A lot of keyboards have built in fx. Again, If I like the sound, I’ll use it. If I don’t, I’ll have the player remove them.

When recording Bass guitar, I’ll usually take a direct line straight from the bass and maybe a line from the amp so I can add dirt or distortion if need be. Both of these will get a bit of limiting (high ratio Compression) and I will blend the two later.

When recording Drums, I rarely ever use delay or reverb while tracking. BUT I use a fair amount of compression on the overheads and rooms. Why? Because I love the sound of compressed drums. I will also put a bit of compression on the Snare and kick when tracking. You need to be very careful with this as snare compression can pull unwanted hi hat into the snare mic. We will pay very close attention to mic placement so we usually don’t run into the bleeding hat problem.

A lot of how I record is based on my opinions, preferences and experiences. Some engineer/producers prefer to do all effects/ compression at mix. I do a combination of both. The point is, if you love the effect or sound ….record it. You may not get a chance to get it back later.

Hope this helps, Jim

Recording with or without effects

Preparing for your next Recording Session

Preparing for your next Recording Session
 
So, a lot of what I’ll say here is obvious yet, so often overlooked.
I get into a lot of sessions where a little more gear preparation would have saved a lot of money and made the entire recording process better.

1.) Have your instruments (guitar and bass) setup.
Bad intonation is one of the biggest time-wasting, vibe-sucking elements that has ever plagued a recording session. When we have to retune for each different section of the song because guitar or bass intonation is out, it not only adds stress to the player, but it is easily avoidable. Realize that it becomes obvious in recording if these problems exist and tuning programs seldom fix this. Set up your instruments before your session!

2.) Guitar players:
Change your strings the day before your session so they can settle on the guitar. There will be a lot less retuning if your strings are settled in.

3.) Bass’s are a bit different.
If you want a bright piano like tone, new strings will work better. If you want a warmer r+b kind of sound, older strings are usually OK. Again, have your bass setup as well so we can avoid intonation problems.

You can usually find a guitar tech or at least get a name of someone who can set your guitars up at your local music store or online. Better yet seek out other players and find out who they use.
 
4.) Drummers:
“Wow, I should have changed these heads”. I’ve heard this a few times. Your drums typically don’t record with much tone or presence with old drum heads. Change them the day before your recording session so they can settle.

If you’re using the studio’s kit and you’er booking a fair amount of time, ask them to replace the heads for your session. Usually this is not a problem unless you’er booking only a few hours.
 
5.) Piano:
If Piano is a big part of your sound and you are using the studio’s Piano, make sure the Studio knows this so they can have the piano tuned. Some studios tune their pianos all the time, some don’t. Big time sucking problems can be avoided with some forethought and a simple phone call.
 
6.) Hard drives:
Since we now live in the digital age and you are probably recording to a hard drive, check with the studio to find out what hard drives they use. You will need TWO hard drives. One drive to record on and one drive to backup on. Hard drives are not expensive anymore. This is the cheapest and one of the most critical points to attend to when prepping for your recording session.

Hard drives can crash! If you have hours or days or weeks of work on your hard drive and it crashes with no backup, you’re possibly out of luck. The studio is not responsible for your drives and the hard drive manufacturer usually only covers the drive, not the content on it. Don’t cheap out here. Buy a backup!
 
Hopefully these 6 preparation points will help your next Studio Recording Session go smooth as butter.
 
That’s it for now… Jim

What Music Recording Software is Best?

Hey Jim, What music recording software should I get?

As a record producer, I get asked this question all the time. Most of the Dominant music recording software such as Pro Tools, Nuendo, logic, Digital Performer, Ableton, etc… All have their strong points and are touted by the people that use them. As to which one sounds best, this is a matter of opinion and anyone who says different is usually pimping what they use.
You want to make sure that it will record into a WAVE file format as this is what most
Studios and engineers use. Almost all systems do this by now but just check before purchasing.

So pick your poison. Ableton and Digital performer have extensive MIDI capabilities if you’re looking to do a lot of MIDI recording, other softwares have MIDI recording as well, some better than others. If you’re looking to use what most of the world use’s, get Pro Tools. Pro Tools is not the cheapest but it’s the industry standard and what most studios and Producers use at this point.

Mixing can be very powerful in Pro Tools as well. Pro tools comes in a light and Pro Version. If you have a computer (Mac is more desirable with Pro tools) that meets Pro tools specs, I recommend getting it and learning it, then you can go into most studio’s and Mastering houses and load right in.

Logic is another great music recording software and made by Mac/Apple. Just an opinion but , I think someday Logic will overtake the market. If that were to happen, it would still be years away.

Now that I’ve said all this, the guy down the street might say “I use Reaper (another music recording software) for $100 and it works great”. That’s fine, but it’s not what most of the world uses. There is no wrong answer, do your research, hit up friends who make music at home and decide whether you need compatibility or not.
The other good thing about learning Pro Tools is if you look for a job in the music/film industry, you will have a head start with your knowledge of Pro Tools software.

As for the self standing systems from Korg, Roland, or Yamaha or other box’s that carry all the stuff you need, I’d be leery. From my experience, each system speaks it’s own specific language and in my opinion they are difficult to learn and hard to transfer files out of. That’s Just my opinion.

Good luck, it’s a party out there.

 
 

What Music Recording Software is Best?